The Impact of Divorce on Social Security Survivor Benefits
Can you handle thinking about one more issue is the midst of a divorce? The impact of divorce on family relationships is overwhelming enough, but people are often surprised by the many other ways that divorce can impact their life. To add to the many concerns facing divorcing couples, divorce can affect Social Security benefits. For older divorcees, this is a crucial issue, since many people have factored these benefits into their retirement plans.
There are two major types of Social Security benefits: retirement benefits and survivor benefits. In general, a divorced spouse who is eligible for survivor benefits would also be eligible for retirement benefits. Retirement benefits are monthly payments that represent a portion of what your former spouse receives monthly and is paid out while your spouse is still living.
Survivor benefits are monthly payments that widows and widowers are entitled to when their spouse dies, assuming that the spouse worked long enough to have earned this benefit under the Social Security system. The amount of time that the person must work depends on the age of the worker at the time of death. The younger the person is at death, the less time they are required to have worked in order to acquire this benefit for their family. No worker, no matter what age, has to work more than 10 years in order to earn this benefit.
If the worker has worked long enough to contribute to the survivor’s benefit system then his or her family members will be eligible for payments when they die. The eligible family members include spouses and former spouses (if the marriage was for a duration of more than 10 years), children under 18, and certain other individuals who may be dependent on the income of the deceased (parents whom they supported and adult children with disabilities). There are some limitations, however, on when these individuals can collect.
If you have been a wage earner and have contributed to your own Social Security account then you may only be entitled to receive what you have earned. This is only true, however, if the amount of your monthly retirement income exceeds the amount of the survivor benefit. You cannot get both payments from Social Security. You may actually get two checks from Social Security but together the checks amount to the total of whichever benefit is greater.
If you remarry, your ability to get survivor benefits could be affected depending on your age. If you are less than 60 years old when you remarry then your survivor benefits will terminate. They can be reinstated, however, if the later marriage ends in divorce or the death of that spouse. If you are over 60 years old when you remarry then your survivor benefits are unaffected. You will continue to receive survivor benefits.
If you are found to be eligible for survivor’s benefits then the amount that you receive will depend on your age and your relationship to the deceased. A widow or widower, who has already reached their own full retirement age, will be entitled to 100% of the deceased worker’s benefit amount. If you are over 60 but have not reached your full retirement age then the amount of the benefit will be adjusted accordingly to reflect the fact that you will receive payments over a longer period of time. Generally, you cannot collect the payments until you reach 60 years old. There is an exception, however if you are taking care of a child of the deceased who is either under 16 years old or who is disabled.
Understanding the impact that divorce will have on the Social Security benefits that you may be entitled to through your spouse can help you to better prepare for the future. Although you cannot allocate Social Security benefits in a divorce agreement, they may be a factor as you decide how other financial matters should be handled. In order to find out exactly what you can expect from Social Security contact the Social Security Administration or talk to a lawyer who is knowledgeable in this area.
Applying for Social Security Survivor Benefits
To read and print out a copy of the checklist, please follow the link below.
You can download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader here
Copyright © 1994-2006 FindLaw, a Thomson business
DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.